June 21st, 1848. Still on board the Scourge, Bermuda. – Another steamer appeared to-day in the north-eastern channel — another of the great West India packets, two of which rendezvous here at Bermuda once a fortnight. Her deck was swarming with passengers, male and female, as she came to her moorings beside us. She left Southampton on the 2nd of June, and brings London papers up to that date. Our second Lieutenant instantly boarded her as officer on guard, and brought back two or three papers; and as I had seen none later than the 26th May, I was glad to get a glance even at the Morning Post. The leading article is about “the convict Mitchel,” who is pronounced by that authority to be not only a convict but a scoundrel. What was more interesting to me, I found Sir George Grey’s reply to a question in Parliament, as to whether my sentence would be executed.
“Her Majesty’s Government had sent instructions to Ireland, that the convict Mitchel’s sentence should be fully carried out.”
Infinite and inscrutable is the stupidity of mortal man! — the question was put by Edmund Burke Roche, and was to this effect: Whether the Government would really carry out to the full extent “the unjust and disproportionate sentence” pronounced in my case? Blockhead! — the sentence was neither unjust nor disproportionate, if I had been tried and found guilty — the nature of the trial, not the severity of the sentence, is the thing calling for explanation and inquiry, and to that Edmund Burke made no allusion. Of course the Minister in his reply takes care to rebuke the questioner, and properly, too, for calling a sentence “regularly pronounced in due course of law” unjust and disproportionate. Can legislatorial helplessness sink any lower than this?
But what I find most interesting of all in this paper is in the column headed “Ireland” — to wit, the prospectus of the Irish Felon weekly newspaper, signed by Reilly and Martin, established to preach the doctrine of “Convict Mitchel,” and to extend and promote the sacred principle of Irish Felony. This is very good, and cannot end badly. It will force the Carthaginians upon more and more decided efforts of vigour — that is to say, more and more outrageous atrocities of lawless tyranny; it will compel all Lamartinesque politicians to become “felons,” or else say at once they meant no revolution; it will rouse attention to the struggle, and to the true meaning of the struggle; it will induce more and more of the people to get arms; it will strip British Whiggery bare of his treacherous, conciliatory, liberal lambs-wool, and show him gnashing his teeth like a ravening beast — for no brute is so ferocious as your frightened capitalist; it will silence all talk of “law,” and shiver to atoms the “last plank of the Constitution” — leaving Ireland as naked of all law and government (save the bayonet) as on the day when she first rose from the sea — as plainly and notoriously naked of law and government (save the bayonet) as she has been really and effectually these fifty years. At last she cannot but know that she is naked — pray God she be ashamed! Then, if the Irish people will obey British bayonets, I say again, from my heart, let them obey and be hanged!
To be sure, Reilly and Martin will be seized without delay, their paper stopped, themselves “tried,” as the phrase is, and probably transported; for an insulted government cannot stand this. And Meagher, Duffy, O’Gorman, O’Brien, Dillon, some or all of them, may follow. No matter; better men have been starved to death by hundreds and thousands.
I know very well that this whole idea and scheme of mine wears a wonderfully feeble and silly aspect in the eyes of statesmanlike revolutionists; they can see nothing more in it than a number of gentlemen agreeing to dash out their own brains, one after another, against a granite fortress, with the notion that they are laying desperate siege to it. These statesmanlike politicians say to us that we should wait till we are stronger; that we should conspire and organise in secret, keeping under the shelter of the law for the present; that when plainly advising men to arm is made a “transportable offence,” we should no longer plainly advise, but exhort and influence them privately, until, etc., etc. Wait till your principles take root before you disseminate them, said a prudent adviser to me. But he who talks thus knows nothing of Ireland.
In Ireland there can be no secrecy, so thick is it planted with Castle-spies. In Ireland you can never organise to any useful purpose so long as they are so miserably cowed by “law,” and see nobody willing to deny and defy this law. In Ireland no private influence can make men procure arms, because they have been taught for forty years to account arms not honourable and needful, but criminal and illegal; and if you spoke to them about arms in their own houses or fields, they would, perhaps, give you up at the nearest police-barrack as a “Ribbonman” — so they have been instructed, poor fellows, by priest and agitator. How, then, are we to get stronger by waiting? Are we not getting weaker, baser, more cowardly, more beggarly, the longer we wait? No; we must try the virtue of plain, outspoken, desperate truth for once. We must openly glorify arms, until young Irishmen burn to handle them, and try their temper; and this we must do in defiance of “law,” and the more diligently that London laws are expressly made against it. We must, in short, make final protest against this same “law” — deny that it is law; deny that there is any power in the London Parliament to make laws for us, and declare that as a just God ruleth in the earth we will obey such laws no longer. I think there will be found some virtue in this statesmanship of mine, if men still grow in Ireland; at any rate I know no better.
At four o’clock this evening— as I was informed by means of a note to Captain Wingrove from the admiral — a boat was to come off to the ship for me; therefore I made ready my portmanteau. Several of the officers, whose names I will not write here (but shall not forget), judging correctly that wherever I should be stowed away I should want books, and knowing that I had no opportunity of providing such things before my kidnapping, begged I would allow them to give me a few volumes out of their store. This was genuine kindliness of heart; and, as I have no quarrel with these gentlemen personally, I took from four of them, one book from each. I have never found it easy, on a sudden, to haughtily repel any attention offered out of pure goodwill. It is not in me. Yet I believe that if time for consideration had been given me, I would have refused the courtesy of these decent fellows! What! shall I — I, John Mitchel, accept presents, almost eleemosynary presents from officers of the Queen of England? But I am glad that I had no time for exasperating reflections. Four o’clock came, and two boats approached, straight from the dockyard, and pulled by men in the white blouses. The hulks, then! No sea-side cottages or cedarn valleys for me — a I’outrance, then. Gaffer Bull!
Three men came on board the Scourge. One, a tall elderly gentleman, in a blue naval coat, announced himself as superintendent of convicts; another was commander of one of the hulks; the third, a medical officer. Few words passed. Captain Wingrove took a receipt for my body (on which it became the property of the man in blue), and bade me farewell with good wishes. Two of the officers stood at the gangway; and, as I stepped forward to descend the ladder, shook me warmly by the hand. We were pulled straight for the innermost of the three hulks, and in a few minutes I found myself on the quarter-deck. The superintendent then informed me that I was, for the present, to wear my own attire, and not to be sent out upon the works. I nodded. He then asked,
“Have you any money?”
“A few shillings,”
“Any credit in the colony?”
He called the chief mate of the ship to him, and said: “Take Mitchel’s money, and place it to his credit.”
The mate, a tall old man with grey hair, locked at me dubiously, as if he thought me a novel species of convict, and did not exactly know how to proceed. So I took out my tricolour purse — “Here, friend,” I said, and emptied all I had into his hand.
“Now,” said the superintendent, “you will find that nobody here has any disposition to add to the annoyances you must suffer — no severity of any kind will be used towards you, provided you are amenable to the rules of the place.”
“Especially,” he added, “it is my duty to tell you that you are to have no connection with public affairs, or politics, and are not to attempt to tamper with any of the prisoners on board.” I answered that I could hardly expect to be permitted here to take part in public affairs; and that I desired to have as little intercourse with the prisoners on board as possible.
The mate then said he would show me where I was to be lodged; I followed him down a ladder to the half-deck, and there, in the very centre of the ship, opening from a dark passage, appeared a sort of cavern, just a little higher and a little wider than a dog-house; it is, in fact, the very hole through which the main-mast formerly ran down into the ship, and would be quite dark but for two very small and dim bulls -eyes that are set into the deck above. I cannot stand quite erect under the great beams that used to hold the main-mast in its place; but half of my floor is raised nine inches, and on that part I cannot stand at all. The whole area is about six feet square; and on the lower part I have a promenade of two steps (gradus), making one step (passus). When I entered, the cavern had, for furniture, one wooden stool.
“Here’s your place,” said the mate.
“Very well,” quoth I, sitting down upon the stool and, stretching out my feet to the comers of my apartment. So the mate and I looked at one another for a minute.
“I suppose,” suggested I, “that I can have my portmanteau here?”
He did not know yet, but would ask. He went away, and presently my portmanteau was sent to me, and a message with it, that if I wished to walk on deck or on the break-water alongside, I might do so. Very glad to avail myself of the offer, as my dog house was intolerably close, I went up, and had a walk on the pier. Soon the “gangs” of prisoners began to come in from the works, and it was intimated to me that I had better retire. A hammock was then brought into my dog-hutch; and in order to make room for it, they had to swing it diagonally. A cup of milkless tea and a lump of bread were then brought me; and when I had despatched these, a piece of candle was left upon a narrow board or shelf projecting from the wall, and my door was locked. The light of the candle showed me a great many big brown cockroaches, nearly two inches long, running with incredible speed over the walls and floor, the sight of which almost turned me sick. I sat down upon my bench, and deliberately reviewed my position. They had not taken my books from me, nor my portmanteau. They had not even searched it, or me; nor taken this scribbling-book away, nor put me in company with the convicts. This is all good; but to-morrow may show me more. And what is the worst it can show me? Why, to be arrayed in a linen blouse and trousers, with my name and number, and the queen’s arrow stamped thereon, and to be marched to the quarries with pick-axe or crow-bar in my hand. Very well; my health now, I thank God, is good; I have hands, like other men. I am covered with my own skin, and stand upon my own feet, being a plantigrade mammal, and also, happily, rather pachydermatous. Let to-morrow come, then. As for my dog-hutch, the mate muttered something, before he left me, about another and better place being made ready for me in a few days. And for these huge brown beasts crawling here, I presume they don’t bite; other people sleep amongst them, and why not I? A bath in the morning, off the pier, will wash the sordes of the dog-hutch from about me.
Here goes, then, for my first swing in a hammock — and I feel myself a freer man to-night than any Irishman living at large, tranquilly in his native land, making believe that he fancies himself a respectable member of society.
22nd. – Bathed luxuriously in the sea; though I had to rise at half-past four that my bath might be over before the gangs turned out to work. Walked about a good deal on deck, which is pleasanter than the breakwater, as it is sheltered from the sun, though open to the air on both sides. It commands a view of the dock, the shipping, barracks, and batteries at one side, and at the other the wide anchorage and, “Grassy Bay,” with a great number of the islands beyond. They are all of the same height, garniture, and aspect, as far as the eye can reach. I think Bermuda is but young; it has pushed its hillocks up so high, and will undoubtedly grow bigger and better as it grows older. Plainly these rocks were part of the sea-bed not long ago; and they seem to me exactly like the land that is forming itself, saith Lyell, round the head of the Adriatic — the river sands, in short, and sea-sands, so soon as they are deposited, glued together, along with shells, pebbles, and the like, by a hard lime-cement — and so, gradually, by the help of nether fires, rising and becoming dry land. Bermuda, I see, is all made of the very same shelly concrete; and, without doubt, was heaved up to its present height in some volcanic paroxysm of the uneasy West Indian regions. And some future game of the playful earthquakes may give these islands a fresh impulse, and raise a peak or two into the clouds, to win some drops of gracious moisture there, and send them down in rills of living water. Then will Bermudians hear, for the first time, the murmur of a running brook, and see a miraculous “fountain of black water” gushing from the heart of their arid hills: their tiny valleys will clothe themselves in a robe of daintier green,, and the development of the country will be as good as perfect. So, for aught I know to the contrary, your islands and continents are born and bred.
I observe to-day that great care is taken to keep me from all communication with the prisoners, to my very great contentment. The half-deck, where my dog-house is, seems to be reserved for the cabins and pantries of the mates, the surgeon and steward, and has no communication below with the fore part of the ship. Several prisoners are kept here in the capacity of servants, and one of them is assigned to attend upon me. For so far I have not been interfered with in any way as to my disposal of my time, and read or walk, just as it suits me; only when the prisoners are coming in for their meals, and while they are on board, I am expected to seclude myself. I do whatever I am bidden, at once and without remark, which seems to surprise my keepers a little. They did not expect me to be so quiet; and ascribing my conduct in Ireland, of course, to mere turbulence of disposition, and general insubordination of character, the commander has evidently some distrust of my extreme passiveness and submissiveness – he thinks it is all my deepness.
23rd. – As I sauntered to-day on the quarter-deck, with a book in my hand, two officers of the Scourge came to visit me. They had to deliver in their names and quality first, to be written down in a book; for I am given to understand that none but officers of the navy or army are to be allowed the privilege of visiting me. In that case, I shall have but little company, as my acquaintances in the United Service are few.
I was well pleased to see, even for a short time, the faces of unhulked people.
25th. – Sunday. – Service on deck: the prisoners, all in clean frocks and trousers, arranged on forms over the deck forward; the guards and mates on the quarter-deck, amongst whom I had a seat apart. I attended service for a little variety; also to see what kind of chaplain we have. After service the chaplain came to me: he politely offered to lend me books, and even to procure me books from others. I rather like the man: he did not cant, as so many of those persons do, but seemed really desirous of serving me, so far as the rules would allow him. He is a Scotchman.
26th. – I have been installed in my new cabin, or cell; it is five feet wide, six feet high, and fourteen feet long – has a table, a chair, a basin stand, but, above all, has a window, that is, a port-hole, two feet and a half square, which, though heavily barred and cross-barred, gives plenty of light and air, as there is a glass lattice which opens and shuts. There are also two shelves for books, and the place is perfectly clean. This is a great improvement upon the dog-house.
I have observed that all the guards and officers of the ship, all the servants, and all the persons who remain about the place by day, employed as boatmen and otherwise, are every man of them English. Was told by [must write no names here] that before I left the Scourge, all the Irish in this hulk, to the number of 80 or 90, had been removed to another, and their places filled up with Englishmen and Scotchmen.
The fools are actually afraid that I will stir patriotic mutinies here.
29th. – The commander came to me to-day, to inform me that I am to be removed to the hospital-ship.
“Hospital-ship! why, I am quite well.” — “An order,” said he, “has come from the Governor: you are to be removed in a boat this afternoon.”
Shortly after, the medical officer. Dr. Warner, came in. “What’s the meaning,” I asked, “of sending me to an hospital — I am not an invalid?”
No matter, he said, it would be a change greatly for the better, as regarded my comfort. He added that he understood the reason of the order to be a report made by the surgeon of the Scourge (I forgot to record in its proper place, that I had on the voyage a rather severe fit of asthma, which the surgeon thought it his duty to certify to the medical superintendent here). Accordingly, I have been removed; and but that I dislike being treated as an hospital patient, the change is certainly for the better. The Tenedos, which is used as an hospital, is a larger, newer, and cleaner ship than the Dromedary, my first abode: and she is moored about a quarter of a mile from land, in a most beautiful bay, or basin, formed by well-wooded islands, and far out of sight of the prison-hulks and the batteries. My cabin is a neat room, with two windows, and without any bars at all. The commander of this ship is Dr. Hall, a kindly old gentleman, who has been a good deal in Ireland, and knows several persons that I also know. He seems to imagine that I am very “unhappy,” and am always making vigorous efforts to conceal the circumstance; he never was more mistaken in his life — however, he is well-disposed to make me as happy as he can. If an Englishman wishes to be kind to any individual, his first thought is to feed him well: the foundation of all British happiness is victual; therefore, the steward has had special orders about my table. In truth, I do begin to set more store by that matter of dining than I ever thought I should. Tender Naso, in his captivity, hated the hour of dinner; or poetice pretends he did. I do not believe him; when one is cut off from all his ordinary occupation and environment, dinner is the great event of his day. If they keep me here many months, living all alone, and supply me with sapid viands, I shudder to think what an overwhelming moment dinner-time may become to me: how I will tear my victuals like a wild beast, gorge them in my solitary cavern, and then he down to doze until next feeding-time. Infandum!
Sometimes I put myself to the question about it — How can I eat thus heartily of British convict rations? — sleep thus calmly on a felon’s iron bed? — receive in gracious-wise the courtesies of Carthaginian gaolers, looking my black destiny so placidly in the face? By heaven! it cannot be but I am pigeon-livered, and lack gall to make oppression bitter. Go to — I will lash myself into suitable rage. But it will not do. The next time old Dr. Hall comes in, with his grey hairs and good old weather-beaten countenance, and begins to talk, my armour of sullen pride will fall to pieces: the human heart that, I suppose, is in me will know its brother, and I will find myself quietly conversing with that old man, as friend with friend.
July 4th. – The mail steamer from the West Indies has just arrived, on her way to England; so I have written to my wife, giving a long account of my voyage, and my way of life here. Cannot have her answer, at soonest, before the 19th of August.
9th. – Sunday. – Service on deck as usual. The chaplain, who came down to my cabin after service, tells me he performs service at all the hulks and the hospital too. He darts about in a fast-sailing boat; rattles over our beautiful liturgy four times, preaches either twice or three times, giving himself about half an hour to take breath and dinner, and steers his bark homeward in the evening. The chaplain had left me about half an hour, and I was sitting at an open window reading Livy and drinking grog. beginning, indeed, to feel myself at home in the Tenedos — for I have been ten days on board — when Dr. Hall entered my cabin in a violent hurry, accompanied by a negro boatman.
“An order to remove you,” he said, “directly.” — “Where now, sir?” I asked.
“Oh! back to the Dromedary. The commander of the Dromedary has come in his own boat, bringing the governor’s order; and this man will carry your portmanteau upon deck. I am very sorry,” he continued, “and cannot guess the reason, but you must go.”
I had by this time thrust my books and everything belonging to me into my box; and in five minutes more I was on my way back to Ireland Island.
We passed close by a piece of ground on this island neatly laid out as a graveyard. The commander, seeing me looking at it, informed me that it was the convict cemetery; for convicts, when they die, are not suffered to repose in church-yards by the side of corpses that take their ease in consecrated ground. I looked now still more curiously at the cemetery, and cannot say that I liked it. I have a respect for my own body, and wish that it may mingle with earth, if not in consecrated ground, at least not in unblessed company. Yet it is far from improbable that in this small enclosure between the sea and the cedars my bones will rest at last. The commander tells me there is, at some seasons, wonderful mortality on board these hulks; that in the first summer of their abode here, many are carried off by dysentery; and that sometimes they perish by hundreds in the West Indian yellow fever. I kept gazing at the cemetery until a point of land hid it from my sight, and as I turned my head away, I shivered.
Half an hour’s sailing brought me to my cell on board the Dromedary. Asked the commander if he knew the meaning of this last movement, but he professed to know nothing, except that a special express from Halifax (where the admiral is now) had arrived this morning to the Governor.
Heard, however, a full explanation of it from [Anonymous]. When the Irish in New York heard of my conviction, and deportation they made some demonstrations; and even threatened (words being cheap) to equip a vessel, or for that matter, I believe, a squadron, to rescue me. I learn further, that the Government surveying-steamer is forthwith to have her bulwarks pierced for guns, and to be armed as heavily as she can bear; and other formidable precautions are to be taken. In the meantime, the retired bay where the hospital-ship lies is not judged so secure a residence for me as this little well-grated cell, under the muzzles of the battery guns.
10th. – Everybody looks mysteriously at me to-day when I go up to walk on deck. They think they have got a troublesome shipmate on board; and the authorities look very determined. But I take notice of nothing, address nobody, am addressed by nobody, and walk about as before without any interference. Martial preparations are observable; workmen busy cutting ports in the steamer right opposite my window: further off, along the top of the fortifications, a line of tents pitched, where, as I hear, the troops are to sleep at night for a time. All this is a little amusing to me.
14th. – Making myself at home in my den here, so far as circumstances will admit. A cot, instead of a hammock, has been provided for me, and Dr. Hall has sent two or three other small matters of convenience; also, a good-natured man, named Black, who tells me he is commander of the Medway, the largest of these hulks, has lent me some books, and told me (taking care, however, to speak to me in presence of the “first mate”) that he has a great quantity of miscellaneous material in the nature of books, which he will be happy to lend me from time to time.
With all these appliances, both for bodily health and mental dissipation, with liberty to write for, and receive any books I please from home (except political periodicals), with sufficient space to exercise in the fresh sea-air, with abundance of good food, and a constant supply of fresh water, and paper, and pens; with all these furtherances, I have been considering whether it would be possible to live here for some indefinite number of years, or even for the whole fourteen, should nothing happen to cut them short. And why not? Major Bemardi lived forty years in Newgate; but then he had his wife and family always with him; and, except for the mere accident of locomotion, was as much in the world as anybody outside. The Earl of Northumberland lived fifteen years in the Tower in the time of James the First; but, then he had leave to correspond with all the learned men of Europe about astronomy; had the White Tower, I suppose, for an observatory; no restrictions as to communicating with whom he pleased; and, I daresay, everything handsome about him. James the First of Scotland, indeed, was imprisoned eighteen or twenty years in Windsor Castle; but, to be sure, he had plenty of society, and a duchess to make love to, which would make a great difference. None of these cases is like mine. The Man in the Iron Mask is more to the purpose: he wore away all his weary days in close confinement. Delatude, also, the Bastille prisoner, ought to encourage me; he lived thirty-seven years in most rigorous imprisonment, and emerged (see the Duchess D’Abrantes) a fine hale old gentleman at last. I forget how long Tasso was kept in the mad-house; but Silvio Pellico was ten years in the Austrian dungeons. Bonnivard was six years in Chillon, a most uncomfortable place; and Raleigh thirteen years in the Tower of London. Who else? Balue, the founder of the great Evreux Cathedral, was kept by Louis XI twelve years in a loathsome den; and I find, from the Book of Kings, that Jehoiachim, King of Judah, lay in a Babylonian dungeon thirty-seven years. I wish I had books and materials here to collect a hand-book of prison biography, for encouragement to myself if I should hereafter chance to need it. Fourteen years are a long time; yet they will assuredly pass. I have nothing to do but keep myself alive and wait.
Suicide I have duly considered and perpended, and deliberately decided against, for reasons which I will here set down in order, so that I may have them to refer to, if that method of solution become a question with me hereafter; for, alas! I know that in fourteen years will be many a dreary day, many a weary night; and sickness and deadly tedium will fall heavily down upon my soul; and often the far-off end of my days of sorrow will be clean out of my sight for the thick clouds that will seem closing around me, veiling all my horizon in the blackness of darkness. Ah! long years in a lonely dungeon are no light thing to the stoutest heart — not to be laughed at by any means; not to be turned back or got rid of, or made to pass merrily as marriage-bells by any system of jesting, or moralising, or building up of sentences, philosophic or jocular, for one’s private edification or ghastly solitary laughter. And the way of escape will be always near me and often tempting; ’tis but opening a door, but touching a spring, and the fardel of my life is cast down, and the black bars vanish from between me and yonder setting sun. Yet will I not lay hand upon my own life, for the reasons here following: —
First. Because I should, in such case, be a conspirator with Baron Lefroy, the Sheriff of Dublin, and the Ministers of England, against my own name and fame. Their parliament and their sheriff may nickname me “felon,” but if I, in despair, thereupon rush to my death, I will own myself a felon, indeed, and send my children scandalised to their graves, as the children of a self-convicted criminal and despairing suicide.
Second. Because, having engaged in this undertaking with full knowledge that this imprisonment might, and probably would be, the end of it for me, suicide now would be a mean and cowardly confession that the consequence of my own acts, I find upon trial, to be more than I can bear.
Third. Because, whereas I am now employed in carrying forward that undertaking, I trust to a happy issue, if I kill myself, I not only desist from the whole enterprise, but, so far as in me lies, undo all I have done. Sometimes to suffer manfully is the best thing man can do — passiveness may happen to be the most effectual action; and I do firmly believe that (unless my whole life has been one gross mistake from the first) I am this moment, though three thousand miles off, active in Ireland — not passive in Bermuda. The manner of my sham trial, the eager, fierce haste of the enemy to gag and ruin me, the open war waged against all constitutional and legal right in Ireland — all this will (or else the very devil is in them) sting the apathetic, shame the “constitutional,” and, above all, rouse the young to a pitch of wrathful disaffection that cannot but come to good. While I am known to be living in vile sinks of felony — and through such means — especially if other and better men follow through the same means, the mind of the young Irish generation will not easily settle down and acquiesce in the sway of the foreign enemy. But if I die. I, for one, will soon be forgotten. There will be one stimulus the less to Ireland’s friends — one difficulty the less to her foes. And if I die by my own hand, I will be worse than forgotten — I will have confessed that England’s brute power is resistless, and therefore righteous — at any rate that I for my part, am a beaten man. It will be my last speech and dying declaration, imploring my countrymen to avoid the terrible fangs of British law — my pupils will hang their heads for shame; and, instead of an example, I shall have become a warning.
Fourth. Because my flesh creeps at the thought of the convict cemetery.
Fifth. Because I have much to live for — many duties but half-discharged or wholly neglected — young children brought into the world, and allowed to grow up hitherto, like an unweeded garden. For so busy has my life been that I never yet got much further than intending to begin doing my domestic duties. But if it be the will of Providence to draw me alive out of this pit, I hope to do my children some good yet before I die.
For these six reasons I mean to live, and not die. It may be that two years, five years, or seven years, may bring me freedom; for the time is like to be eventful, and Carthaginian policy is surprisingly deep and inscrutable; but, at any rate, I will live on, and see it out, and even economise my health and strength, that I may not be turned out at forty-six years of age a decrepit old man, but may have some stamina and spirit left to begin the world upon over again.
My six reasons so set out in black-on-white, I find to be altogether sufficient. And well they are so; for the cool determination to maintain a mere animal or vegetable life in an ignominious den like this has need of good reasons to justify it. Suicide is not in itself a bad act, though in any given case it may be a very dark crime indeed. Pliny’s sad saying — that the choicest blessing of this life is the power to end it — may not be universally true; yet that same is a blessing; and if there be a settled desire of death, and no adequate reasons for living — that is, if it be not your clear duty to live, then it is your clear right to die. Only let every man beware of mistakes in forming a judgment on the point: let him do nothing in haste, or out of impatience, spite, or passion: let him give himself a fair trial — a rare thing under the sun — and if he find, on impartial inquest, that the burden of his life is heavier than he can bear, and that his death, or manner of his death, will injure no one — then let him calmly, and in all good humour, in no spirit of impious defiance of heaven, or stupid scorn of mankind — let him, like good old Gloster,
“Shake patiently his great affliction off,”
But, having gone so far into thig exhilarating tractate of self-murder, let me see if I can get to the root of the matter. There is an axiom of lawyers in all lands — and founded surely on sound ethics — that you may do what you will with your own, but so as not to hurt your neighbour. And what can be my own, if my own body be not? I will move it whither I please (unless some body steals it from me and locks it up — as may sometimes happen) — or if I choose, I will keep it at rest, feed or physic it, pamper or starve it, Or, if I like, riddle it with bullets, or drown it in the sea, but always provided nobody else is hurt by these proceedings. Locomotion, in like manner, is not in itself a crime — no more than suicide; yet one has not a right to exercise locomotive power by bolting from his place of abode, leaving his rent unpaid and his children starving.
It seems, then, that no man ought to leave engagements undischarged, or duties that he has implicitly or explicitly contracted to do, undone. Is this the key that opens the whole mystery?
Hardly the whole. I have heard people say, indeed, that in no case can one cast away life without deserting duty; for every man being born into a world of creatures like himself, all fitted for social life, and in need of one another’s help, and being endowed with faculties, wants, and sympathies accordingly — has claims (so they say) on all other men, and must reciprocally admit their claims on him — is bound, in short, to exercise those faculties, for the good of himself and others, to supply those wants and develop those sympathies and affections, and so become and continue, nolens volens, a good and useful member of society, until it shall please God Who made him to end his task. All this I deny. Nobody is obliged to “benefit his species”; the notion of a man being able to benefit his species, or bound to do it, if able, is a mere modem humbug — not more, as I calculate, than ninety or a hundred years old. Our duties to “society,” to “mankind,” and the like, begin and end with our personal engagements, express or implicit: if you violate none of these, you may go about your business without leave asked of mankind or society: so far as they are concerned you are clear. In that case you need not search for reasons to justify your retreat; one’s own whim is reason enough; if you are of a bilious habit, and melancholy temperament, and fancy that you are tired seeing the sun rise every day, I know no cause why you should not trust a sharp instrument into your dyspeptic stomach and let your disagreeable soul rush forth into the air; or, say that you love a woman who despises you, and being but young, fancy that you have done with life, and that your heart is broken, or “blighted” – or, if you like it better, “crushed” – and have no father or mother, brothers or sisters to be grieved, shocked or disgraced by you – why, then, paying first all your bills, yea, the very tailor’s, go by all means and take your lover’s leap. Mankind will go on without you; and for the lady, whose cruel heart you think to wring, she will be much pleased and flattered: your sad fate will have thrown a shade of romantic interest around her, and she will look more charming in it than ever. Bless your innocent heart, a dozen such scalps as yours at her war-belt will but heighten her rank and dignity in that savage tribe.
Yet this simple key, one may affirm, does not open the whole mystery; nor any key yet forged. I will only suggest, that there may be other considerations worthy a man’s thoughts (before he blows his brains out) besides his bare duties, debts to society, or engagements with other men, women, and children. Finding yourself here, a living man, may it not be worth your while (for remember it may be the only opportunity you will have for many an aeon) to stay and see what this life is, and what it is good for — to try what capacities of action and passion may be in this manhood wherewith you are thus mysteriously invested — how far it can look before and after — whether there be not matters worth seeing, doing, knowing, suffering even — consider, consider whether there may not be — I say not debts and duties — but privileges and high prerogatives vested in the very life and soul you are about to scatter to the elements, which will enable and entitle you, even you, by faithful manly action, to lift up that despised human nature of yours, not only out of the Slough of Despond, where it now lies weltering, but above the empyrean and the stars — yea, powers whereby you may illumine what is dark in you, what is low raise and exalt, and so —
By due steps aspire
To lay your just hands on the golden key
That opens the palace of eternity.
We know what we are, but not what we shall be; they say the owl was a baker’s naughty daughter; and I do verily believe that on the extent to which we purify and ennoble our own nature in life will depend the rank to be assigned each of us in the scale of God’s creatures at death. Therefore, on the whole, I say as Convict Socrates said: ανδριοτεον; as we are men, let us be men — as the Christian apostle said, “Quit you like men” — what is needful to be endured, endure it; what your hand findeth to do, do it; love, hate, work, and play, not envying, not oppressing, nor brooking oppression — above all, not lying (to yourself or others), and you will see good days before you die and after.
I am far from saying it is your duty to remain alive for all this — only your privilege. You are not obliged, but permitted; and you may throw away the privilege, and decline the trouble. But beware, lest on your next transmigration you find yourself looking out through the eyes of a baboon, or hearing with the ears of a jackass.
Reading over the above disquisition two hours after writing it, I find it consists of words mainly, or even echoes of words, with shadows and ghosts of meanings. Heaven be my witness, I know little of man’s life and its high destinies myself; and am often inclined to say there is nothing in it. All is vanity. Yet “look to the end of life.” Who can say all is vanity till he has tried it out? Thirty-three years have I walked the earth, and not idly nor with my eyes intentionally sealed. I have lived, and I have loved; and, up to the present date, cannot say that I find this world to be any great matter. But then, here is a new scene of it opening upon me; the hulks may teach me somewhat. I am resolute to wait and see.
20th. – A month in Bermuda, and there has not been one shower; but a heavy dew at night (which it seems Prospero was aware of), and even during the day, while a tyrannical sun is blazing down vertically upon this arid land, there is a surprising dampness in the air, so that salt standing in an uncovered vessel upon a shelf in the dry ship, soon runs to water. A southerly wind blows the whole summer, laden always with water; and without it there would certainly be no vegetation at Bermuda. As it is, however, vegetation is very rich, and the fruit is delicious.
Good people have sometimes got a melon or pine-apple smuggled in to me by methods to me unknown.
My window commands a view of the whole dock-yard with its buildings, also the barrack and parade-ground. The 42nd Regiment of Highlanders is stationed here, and just before sunset, every evening, they muster on an esplanade right opposite to me, and march up to their barracks with bagpipes playing “The Campbells are Coming,” or some kindred air. But upon the other side, upon the breakwater, which is also in part visible from my window, is another muster, sad to see: many hundreds of poor convicts marched in gangs, some of them in chains, to their work, in the quarries, or the new government buildings. They walk, as I fancy, with a drooping gait and carriage. Their eyes, it is said, are greatly injured by the glare of the white rocks, and many of them grow “moon-blind,” as they call it, so that they stumble over stones as they walk. There are always two or three of those belonging to this ship kept in irons for one fault or another, and the clank of chains is seldom out of my ears. Within the month, also, several of them have been savagely flogged; the other prisoners are all mustered to see this exhibition; and though I am never summoned to any muster, I can hear in my cabin every cut of the sounding lash, and the shrieks of the mangled wretches. I once asked the attendant who brings my meals what fault a man had committed who was flogged that morning. “For giving cheek, sir,” answered the man; which means, using insolent language; but when I hear the officers or guards speaking to them (as when walking on deck I often do), it is always in an imperious, insolent tone and manner, even in giving the commonest order; which might well exasperate sometimes the tamest drudge. No wonder the poor fellows are sometimes provoked to “give cheek.” Now, I am sentenced to the very same punishment with these convicts, yet here have I my “cabin,” my book-shelves, the attendance of a servant, wear my own clothes, go out and come in at my own times, am spoken to, not only without haughtiness, but with respect, and all because I am supposed to be (though I never said I was) a gentleman. See here the spirit of the British Constitution — a most polite Constitution! — a most genteel spirit! See of what fine porcelain clay your British gentleman must be made, when, even as a felon (for they are bound to pretend that they consider me a felon), the gentleman is not to be allowed to mix with the swinish multitude. Your gentlemanly convict, even, must have deference and accommodations, and attendance and literary leisure; but in the hulk, as elsewhere, there is the hard word and the hard blow, and unremitting, ill-requited toil, and fetters for the limbs, and a scourge for the back of the poor.
21st. – Mr. Hire, the deputy-superintendent, came on board to-day, and handed me letters from home. The Governor, too, had very courteously sent them to me unopened; but Mr. Hire said he expected that if anything in them related to public affairs I would give them up – which of course I promised – then hurried down to my den, and with shaking hands broke the seals. A long letter from my dearest wife, another from my mother. Matters had gone as I anticipated with my affairs in Dublin: the very day of my sentence the printing-office, with types, paper, and books had been seized by the police – and then, of course, agents and others who owed me debts would not venture to pay them; because, the books being in the enemy’s hands, if Lord Clarendon chose it, he might make them all pay over again. This I do not think likely; but in the meantime, under the false pretext of my “conviction,” the scoundrel robs my wife and children. The people are collecting a “tribute” for her, which is humiliating to think of – yet what can be done? Besides, this payment of money in open sustainment of Irish “Felony” is a good thing. Nothing so fully interests some men in a cause, as subscribing money for it. My brother William has gone to New York at my mother’s earnest request: they do not tell me why; (I warned them not to give me any political news, which would only cause the letters to be kept from me) but I can guess that the “Government” are proceeding with vigour.